Me, MomSelf and I

Life's journey is full of twists and turns and sometimes we get lost. This is my journey to rediscover myself.


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Being Bullied Made Me Awesome

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and fellow parent about classmates teasing. She relayed the advice she gave to her son who was teased about a bad haircut. She said, “I told him next time something like that happens, you tell him (or whoever it is) something like ‘my hair will grow back but you can’t fix your face.’” We laughed about the nice comeback. But then she went on to say something that triggered a funny feeling in my bones. She said, “see, I used to be a bully, so I know how to nip that in the bud. A good comeback is key to shutting a bully down.” My husband relates similar stories of him getting teased at times, but because he is quick and witty, his retorts always stopped a potential bully in his tracks.

A couple of weeks before this conversation, I ran into one of my bullies at my kids’ school. It just so happens that her son is in my daughter’s class. We had seen each other a few times last year and she hugged me and was very friendly. Shocked and surprised, I responded in kind. But this year at curriculum night, she said something that caught me off guard. We were laughing about how we keep running into each other when she said, “even though we didn’t get along when we were in school, somehow our kids insist on being together!” I chuckled in agreement, but in my mind, I was thinking, what did I ever do to you?

Yesterday, another friend posted one of those retro pictures of where we grew up on facebook. And it just so happened that the photo was of a department store that was on our way home from middle school. The parking lot of that department store is where seemingly everyone in my school would congregate to watch me get beat up.  There was a mean girls clique at school (some would say cool girls) and if I happened to do something to piss one of them off, the rumor mill would begin to swirl that they would be waiting to “jump” me in the May Company parking lot after school. The news bubble would swell with each passing period and culminate in the crowd waiting to see the fight. I was fortunate that my best friend’s mom would pick us up if we called and asked her to. On those days, I’d ask her to.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t notify teachers. My teachers said there was nothing they could do since it was just hearsay and because the fight was planned off school grounds. As you might imagine, it was pretty difficult to learn when you feared getting your ass kicked after school and had all day to think about it.  I was always looking for protection. My parents would tell me to ignore it and supplied me with dog spray if anything were to go down. (My dad was a mail carrier and kept the dog spray supply fully stocked.) It was then that I turned to religion. I learned to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘seek God first’. So, I prayed a lot and hard, and while the bullying didn’t stop, I never was jumped in the May Company parking lot.

But getting back to my friend and what she said, it made me reflect on my time being bullied and caused me to wonder if I’ve gotten over it? There’s plenty of research that talks about the long-term effects of bullying from low self-esteem and depression to anxiety, panic attacks and even suicide in adulthood. When I was going through it, my grades definitely suffered. I was often angry and contemplated suicide. I also contemplated homicide. Years later when the Columbine massacre happened and it was reported that the killers had been bullied, I knew exactly how they felt. If I had access to guns at the time, I might not be sitting here writing this article. Instead, I threw myself into my religious studies and waited for God to take care of it. I believe that God gave me the strength to endure so that I could learn from it and use it to fulfill my purpose.

There’s a Frederick Nietzsche saying that goes, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Do I wish I was never bullied? Hell yes! But none of us can change our past, we can only create our future. Being the victim of bullying bothered me for most of my life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that turmoil made me approach the world from a place of compassion. It made me want to stand up for others. It’s probably what led me to work in social justice; to protect those not capable of protecting themselves. But I also know that going through that experience is what contributes to me being an awesome parent. It made me a fierce advocate for my kids and any other kid I come across who might be bullied.

Sometimes I think about looking my bullies up on google for a confrontation, telling them, “you know what you did, and I’m here to find out why.” I have wracked my brain trying to explain why I was picked on, why girls hated me, why people wrote “slut” on the bathroom wall next to my name when I was clearly a virgin, why people squirted ketchup all over my brand new pink jogging suit. The bottom line is at this point in my life, I don’t need to know. Because I love the person I am today and everything I went through, both wonderful and heartbreaking, contributed to who I became. Life is much too short to carry around heavy ass hate and hurt baggage and I have made my peace with it. So, to my former bullies who I may or may not run into, I say namaste and I hope you are happy with who you’ve become.


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Father Figures

1149629_10201364221443877_2121992537_oFather’s Day is the one day we pay homage to the men who raised us. For me, it is about acknowledging the father that is no longer here in the physical form, but is with me everyday and everywhere I go. My dad who was as lenient as they come, who would do anything for his girls that he could. And sometimes, he couldn’t. My dad was an alcoholic for most of my life. But that didn’t stop him from going to work faithfully everyday for 40+ years for the United States Post Office. It didn’t stop him from coming to my school concerts in which I always had a solo, even if it meant him being tipsy. It didn’t stop him from trying to make things right when he knew he messed up. And I love my dad, but he wasn’t the only male figure in my life growing up. Thanks to him, there were a host of characters, friends, family, that would all commiserate at our house after work. The post office crew, who would sit around the dining room table to complain about work and that micromanager supervisor they all detested. There was Mr. Grier, Jay Adair, Clayton, Cecil, Newt, and a few others. I would come home from school and put on the radio, WZAK for the latest R&B hits, but Clayton would always come change the station to jazz. (We would go back and forth, fighting over the radio like two kids! He’d tell my dad that he needed to discipline me and my dad would just brush it off.) Then there was the family that would come over on the weekends for a “taste” and stay way past the time they should, but they seemed to have too much fun to leave. My Uncle Jesse, Uncle Ali, Uncle Donald, Cousin Leon, Artis,  Gene the Gasman (cause he worked for the gas company), Tony Clark, Uncle Wilbur, Uncle Bill. Those were all the men on my dad’s side. Sometimes my mother’s brother, Uncle Eddie would also hang. It wasn’t always the same group but every weekend, some of these men were there. Now as I’m grown I wonder how did my mom deal with people being at the house all the time? She didn’t say much about it, though sometimes as she moved through the house, I could feel a chill in the air. But I imagine some part of her had to think it better for my dad to be home and have company than to be out who knows where. She’s always been more quiet and reserved, whereas my dad, if you can’t already tell, was the center of the party. He was funny and lighthearted and honest and grounded. People felt comfortable around him because he made them feel that way. I think he made them feel needed and let them feel he needed them. I would listen to them tell stories about the old days (since most of my dad’s friends knew him since childhood.) They loved to rehash the off the wall tales of my dad crashing his car with him and the car being suspended in a tree on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and how the firemen got him down. Or the multiple times he fell into Lake Erie while fishing and his friends swearing he walked on the water to get back to the boat (he never learned how to swim, but somehow always managed to get out of that water!) They would crack themselves up as the drinks would flow as easy as the stories. And I listened.

One time my mother had gone out with her friends, a super rare occurrence. So my dad and my Uncle Donald were home watching my sister and I. Well, I got into my mom’s whole jar of noxema and was covered in it. When my dad discovered me, he scolded me in his gentle way. My Uncle Donald thought daddy was going to easy on me. He convinced my dad that he needed to spank me with a brush or run the danger of me being a spoiled little brat and my dad being a softy. Not wanting to look bad in front of his twin brother, he told my sister to grab the brush and sure enough, he spanked me in front of his brother. I’m sure I cried because my dad had never hit me before and I could not believe my uncle could influence him that way. Looking back, I’m positive my dad hated to do it just as much as I hated to have it done, because he never hit me again.

When I was about 17 my driver’s license got suspended because I had too many speeding tickets and I had to go to court. Instead of telling my parents, I called my Uncle Ali and asked him if he could take me, which he did. I’ll never know if he told my parents because they never said a word to me about it. I had the type of uncles who made me feel that they could keep my secrets. I was incredibly lucky to have some many strong, black male figures in my life. All I knew were strong black men who worked hard to support their families.

There were always men around the house. All of them someone else’s dad and all imperfect. But for one reason or another, they loved my dad and he loved them, therefore, I loved them. Mostly all of them are gone now, but each one has a special place in my heart. And when I reflect on Father’s Day, I think of each one of them.


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Body Image

I got on a bicycle today, which might seem like no big deal. And it wasn’t really, except that it was my first bike ride in about 6 years. And only the 3rd or 4th time I was on it in the 11 years I’ve owned the bike. I’m trying to find a form of exercise I don’t despise. It was pretty hilarious though to see how worried the kids were that I would hurt myself. It felt like Freaky Wednesday where they were the parents and I was the child! “Mommy, be careful!” “Good luck mom!” I managed to make it around the block without incident. However, I did not lose weight with that bike ride.

I don’t know many women who DON’T complain about their weight. And I try not to unless I’m prepared to do something about it. Which I am not. But I will complain anyway. I’ve made the same resolution every December 31st for the last 30 years (save for my junior year in high school when I lost a bunch of weight basically because I stopped eating. Thanks depression!) Then, I inevitably find myself with my hand in a bag of potatoe chips or on my 3rd slice of pizza and into the 3rd week of January say, well, I’ll start fresh next month after the gym clears out. Fast forward to the beginning of summer when I can’t hide behind layers of clothes and reality of my undiscipline eating habits smacks my jiggly thighs and I think, “oh no, the season of exposure!” I would love to be one of those people who accepted themselves in all their glorious body. And sometimes I am. I mean, I’ve posed nude twice in the last year!  I admire people who don’t let their extra weight stop them from living life. I am just not that person right now.

A friend of mine who I don’t consider overweight at all lamented to me recently about how disappointed she feels about her post baby weight 2 years later. Yet she told me that she looks at me and thinks, “Darlene looks great at any size!” We both found it interesting that despite having very different bodies, and despite other people’s perceptions, we both struggle internally with the same exact feelings. So it all comes down to body image. What is body image?

Body image=The mental image of one’s own self, or the picture you have of yourself. Basically, it’s what you think you look like. The problem I have is that I’ll think I look good (in my mind) until a mirror tells me otherwise. The mirror is like my 6th grade bully pointing out each and every flaw and laughing at me for having the audacity to imagine I looked anything other than fat. Sometimes I feel embarrassed and ashamed that I can’t live up to the image in my mind. And I wonder what my kids think of my body? (Though with the amount of times theyplay with my belly and tell me I look pregnant, I have a pretty good idea.) Bottomline is, I know I’m not the best me I can be at this weight. I don’t play with the kids like I want to and I don’t wear certain clothes like I want to. And logically, I know the importance of getting to a healthy weight for me, for medical reasons. I understand what it takes to lose weight. All the resources are out there from online diet programs to streaming workouts, couch to 5ks and motivational daily texts . But like anything else, until you are ready to commit to the work (not the program or the trainer-but the work of change) you will remain stuck. Which is where I am with my hand in a bag of chips.

I believe that one of these days I will get it together. I mean I have to! But apparently I’m pretty stubborn. I just hope I can make it sooner rather than later. I’ve taken some baby steps, like climbing on that bike. And maybe this December I’ll have a new resolution like, jump out of plane next year! because by then, I could fit in the harness.


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What’s in a Name?

I was at a party the other day, working the room like I tend to do. “Hi, I’m Darlene. And you are…?” 

I’ve never been a fan of my name. Most of my life I was always mistakenly called Danielle or Denise. They knew it started with a D but I guess Darlene just wasn’t memorable enough. So I would be renamed-but never nicknamed. 

I always wanted a really cool nickname, but there isn’t a naturally shortened version of Darlene. Both ‘Dar’ and ‘Lene’ feel incomplete. ‘Dee’ just doesn’t seem to fit me. Maybe its too simple and I’m too complicated. I’m not sure. But Darlene always felt like an old person’s name to me. The only other Darlene I knew when I was young, was my Aunt, who was grown. But I was actually named after a young person, a tv character-Darlene from The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950’s, played by Darlene Gillespie. My mom thought her name was just ‘darling’. But here I was, born 20 years later when noone under 30 got the reference, so my name was often forgotten.
Maybe that is why I work so hard to remember names, (though now I have my own aged Darlene brain to contend with making it more challenging than before.) As I mix and mingle with 14 Amy’s, 8 Jen’s, and 22 Laurie’s,  I wonder how they feel about their names? One of the Jens I meet tells me her mom’s name is Darlene.  (Yes, that sounds about right, I think to myself.) And while I’m still not necessarily a fan of my name, I’m mostly comfortable with who this Darlene has become: friendly and charismatic, one who rarely forgets a name, and can strike up a conversation with anyone. Mickey Mouse would be proud!

Comment your thoughts about your name below.


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Women Marching for Women

Until recently, I never considered myself an activist. I was always a rebel. But I was pretty complacent when it came to social justice issues, despite my job as a fair housing advocate. Three years into my 40’s and I’m ready, willing and able to put myself out there for causes I believe in, particularly after the election of a U.S. President who has been recorded saying he could grab women by the p**** because he was a rich man. So one day after his inauguration, I joined my sisterhood to march in downtown Cleveland for Women’s RightsCleveland for Women’s Rights, which this President and his cohorts seem determined to abolish.  It was only my second march and third protest action, but it certainly will not be my last.  Why did I do it? And why now?

Admittedly, I am a last-minute person. I take ‘live in the present’ a bit too literally. While I’d heard talk about the Women’s March on D.C., I thought it was totally unrealistic for me to participate. Then I heard there would be one in Cleveland. The week leading up to the marches, I began to see friends prepping for the events. One friend asked me if I was going, as she was on the fence about it. I was stuck in between a perpetual state of disbelief that our country was really going to continue disrespecting women the way it has, and a paralyzed state of not really knowing what I could do to make a difference.  We gave each other until Thursday to decide. The more I thought about things, I reflected on the Civil Rights Movement and how disheartened I was to learn that my parents had not participated in that historic event. I didn’t want my kids to look back and say, “Mom, what did you do when Trump got elected?” And my reply be, oh, I took you guys to basketball and did your laundry.  Everything I do at this point in my life is to make myself a better person, and someone my children can be proud to call their mom. Once I looked at it in that context, the answer was clear. I would march.

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My friend Danielle offered to drive and my friend Becky made us signs, and we joined an estimated 15,000 other women, men and children who marched for equal pay, reproductive rights, violence against women protections, religious freedom, gender equity and a myriad of other causes. When an election of this magnitude leaves you feeling powerless, you can find power in joining a movement. Regardless of whether you were black, white, Asian, Latina, Native American, Western European, lesbian, trans, bisexual, rich, poor, middle class, heavy, thin, short, tall, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, a woman with a disability, a mom, married, single, childless, and everything in between, under the bright sunshine of hope and solidarity, we all marched together and had each other’s backs.  Now the challenge is to keep going, keep marching. If that means calling your representatives weekly to make your voice heard-keep marching. If that means mentoring another women to lift up those coming behind you as you climb the ladder-keep marching. If that means driving someone in need to Planned Parenthood or Preterm to get necessary medical care-keep marching. In Girl Scouts we say be a sister to every girl scout. In life I say to the best of your ability, be a sister to every woman. None of us got anywhere without help. Be a help to women in your community. When women are stronger, the world is stronger! Everyone knows women are the backbone of society, yet in 2017 some still insist on trying to break that backbone and then wonder why they can’t walk. We must strengthen our core with daily exercises of finding a way to support another women every day. While I will still drive my kids to basketball and do their laundry (while drinking wine!) I will no longer sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to pick up the baton. None of us can afford to be complacent any longer. We have some real work to do, and if you have been like me, and watched and waited for someone else, I urge you to look at the beauty of this day and these marches, and be inspired by the sea of pink out there ready for you join the fight. Let’s go!

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Thanks 2016, You Broke Me

I hate The Walking Dead. I’ve never liked zombies or demons or sci-fi anything. I’m a rom-commer or tearjearker emotional TV show/movie watcher. (Hello This Is Us!!!) But my husband tried to convince me to watch “his show,” TWD, by reasoning it was not in fact about zombies, but about how humans respond and react to each other under extreme, dire circumstances. Eventually, in an effort to be closer to him, I gave in and watched. And it was gruesome! But he was right, it’s not about the zombies at all. It is about human survival. And if you are a fan of the show (or not, like me) then you know that 2016 is Negan. Negan is the worst of the worst human. He is cold-hearted, selfish, manipulative, and evil. That bastard is chopping heads off and taking names. Literally. And 2016 is that bastard.

This year, especially around the holidays and the start of a new year, everyone laments about all the celebrities we lost because the In Memoriam reel will be a who’s who in entertainment. There are way too many to name, but suffice it to say, this is the year my childhood died. All the people I grew up watching, being entertained by, inspired by left the earth, seemingly too soon. The reality is that everyone dies at some point. In fact, millions of people die around the world every day, every minute of every day. (And when I think about that too much, it hurts.) I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, Barney Miller, One Day At A Time, the Die Hard movies, Spike Lee movies (Radio Raheem!), Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, listening to Prince and Vanity, in between all of the Miss Cleo commercials screaming “Call me NOW!” Its hard to reconcile the fact that I’m an adult now raising my own kids (REALLY????), but couple that with those I grew up on passing away and it feels like a blow to my armor.

Then there was the election.

I remember being disappointed both times George W. Bush “won” because, like crazy Kanye, I too believed he didn’t care about black people. But this election broke my faith in America. It broke my liberal spirit to see an overqualified woman lose a job-the most important job in this country-to an inexperienced, sexist, racist, xenophobic, imbecile of a man because he was white and had a penis. What does that mean for the rest of us women who already struggle with feelings of self-doubt, and the impossibly high glass ceiling? Where does that leave us when we try to advance to the next level? The message was clear: you can be the worst human being ever, as long as you’re white, rich and a man, you will win every time. And the resurgence (or unearthing) of the spirit of hate has been another gut punch. The rise in reported hate crimes since his election has skyrocketed with his message of deporting immigrants and banning Muslims. Every minority group has felt the sting of hate elevated.

2016 also dragged in “All Lives Matter,” the most concise way to tell black people we are once again 3/5ths of a person, or that Black Lives Don’t Matter. Anyone that tries to argue otherwise needs to engage in some serious self-reflection. Those are the same people who want to be colorblind in a society that is set up to favor one color over all others. It’s a privilege to be colorblind! The rest of us POC (people of color) are reminded daily, hourly of our color, when we’re followed in stores, when people clutch their purses or cross the street when they get near us, when people try to pat our hair like we’re zoo animals, the many ways some politicians try to suppress our vote, or when police officers (and even those wanna-be cops) outright murder us with no consequences. The proof that people do indeed see color is in the pudding and 2016 was a pudding smorgasbord. And the infuriating thing about all lives matter (which there are many) is that people who say it don’t even believe it. Those same people are not against immigrant deportation or banning Muslims. (What about their lives??)  The rationale is that a few bad apples in the bunch have committed acts of terror (nevermind that some bad apples in the white race have also-looking at you Dylan Roof, and Timothy McVeigh) so we have to get rid of those lives to protect all lives (aka white lives). Some of those same people say we need to roll back rights for the LGBTQ population because gay marriage will demean and erode straight marriage, (as if the destruction of marriage wasn’t already happening waaaay before gay marriage was legal). They argue that trans folk can’t use the bathroom of their expressed gender because, pedophiles! and “what about the children??” (as if one has anything to do with the other!) So, we say All Lives Matter-in theory. In practice, black lives, LGBTQ lives, Muslim lives, immigrant lives, Indigenous people’s lives and women’s lives don’t matter.

2016 tried to defund Planned Parenthood too. The nerve! Some of these all lives matter peeps screamed, “I don’t want my tax money to pay to kill babies or pay for condoms!” Nevermind that the majority of services performed  are general women’s health, you know, making sure we don’t have cervical cancer or breast cancer or if we want to avoid an unplanned pregnancy giving us access to birth control. No, they’d rather women have unprotected sex, then have an unwanted pregnancy so they can find the baby a great home to raise it in with all the resources needed for a healthy productive life! Wait, nobody’s going to adopt that baby? So all lives matter until the baby is born, then its every man or woman (or baby) for themselves, walking dead style. And by the way, let’s be clear, all lives matter did not develop in relation to those other lives. It was a direct, counter response to BLM, again, a gentler way to say Black Lives Don’t Matter. (And if you insist on arguing this point, you are not listening and part of the problem!)

Here’s something else 2016 did: break me financially. Its like everything came to a head in 2016. I do not claim to be the best budgeter (okay, I’m clueless). But you throw in stagnant wages, lost overtime, 2 job loses, rising costs of raising 3 kids, a 100-year old house, and you have the makings of a financial breakdown. Its hard not to feel like a failure when your whole family says how much they wished to move to a “better” house, because this one is well past its prime and there is no money to fix-her-upper.(Rational or not, my inner voice whispers that it’s a woman’s job to make a house a home, and if my family hates where they live, then its my fault.) The struggle is real, and it has taken an emotional toll on me. Have I made bad decisions, sometimes robbing Peter to pay Paul? Unfortunately, I have and its a hard lesson to learn that it doesn’t work long-term, especially when I’m old enough to know better. And not to bring it back to race, but the wealth gap in this country is yet another harsh reality. Not only do POC earn less money for the same job as whites, we also don’t have the same resources or access to money. I don’t have family members who can loan me money (or gift it,) because we’re all in the same boat. Banks are not loaning to minorities even if they have good credit and higher incomes. Before you think this is a woe is me, I’m broke because I’m black, that’s not what this is. I’m broke because of three kids, student loans and bad decisions. (Apparently, it costs a lot of money to grow the next female black president, world renown psychologist and the first black EGOT-Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony- award winner! #DrewDoesItAll) But let’s not pretend that there aren’t also systemic disparities at play. Discrimination in all its forms has not stopped, it has evolved, continuing to present challenges for those on the receiving end of it. This is where some people say, “see, President Obama has failed to make things better economically! That is why we voted for change!” And I would concede that people, including me, are still experiencing real hardships, (although I would argue that has more to do with the people who swore to block any initiatives put forth by this administration, than the administration itself.) But the thing about living in a civilized society is that it’s not always about you the individual. President Obama advanced gay rights, positioned America as a leader in climate change, put initiatives in place to make housing more inclusive and affordable, including reducing homelessness, increased funding for Planned Parenthood, and supported criminal justice reform and reentry initiatives. While there were limits to what he could do and definitely other things I think he should have done, he did much for Americans and people living in the United States. But the truth is, to see a black man-THIS black man, who showed intelligence matters, science matters, decency matters, kindness matters-get elected twice in my lifetime and for my kids to have only ever known a black President, well that’s priceless and incredibly affirming.

So what now? I would like to take a 4 year sabbatical to live at a spa retreat, have someone patch up my wounds, massage away my pain, stretch out my kinks yoga-style and let me meditate on all lessons I’ve learned, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I have wallowed in election defeat, but beyond that, real legitimate fear, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have felt paralyzed the past few months. Every day, each news report of confirmation hearings, random spastic tweets, and unprecedented political maneuvering feels like I’m watching a scary show about a zombie apocalypse that I can’t turn off. I want to retreat into a bunker and wait for the all clear. But after listening to President Obama’s  farewell speech (and watching the latest keep-in-all-the-way-real Black-ish episode,) I know what I have to do. The pain and frustration I’m feeling, while new to me, is not new to black people. And neither is the hope that things have to get better. Just as much as we have struggle in our DNA, we also have overcoming too. And not just black people, but American people. THIS is us! (See what I did there?) We make a way.

As we begin the new year, the spirit of Negan is still in charge. We have a lot of fighting to do. The zombies are upon us and we have to bandage ourselves up and figure out what kind of humans we’re going to be. Are we going to turn on each other, or turn towards each other and say, hey, how can we make a better way together? Yes, I’ve been broken. But my plan is to heal myself and be stronger for what’s ahead. I’m going to polish up my passions so I have something to contribute to this new world. As my President said, “All of this progress is because of you — because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done… and because of all of us taking care of each other. Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.”

 

How are you feeling after the election? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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My Hair Journey

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“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” –Coco Chanel

I have had chemicals in my hair for over 30 years.  When I was about 9 my mom took me to my grandmother’s hairdresser to get a jheri curl. She had struggled with my thick coarse hair long enough. The ritual of getting my hair washed in the kitchen sink and sitting on the floor between her legs while she straightened my hair with a hot comb had come to an end. She was relieved of her hair duties. The jheri curl was a new permanent curling process that came to define the 80s for black hair.  Michael Jackson, Ice Cube and Lionel Richie were just a few of the celebrities sporting the juicy hair. There were plenty of jokes to go around about the greasiness of it all, the curl activator, the plastic bags people wore over their heads. That grease would lead to the constant acne that decorated my forehead through my middle school years. Even after Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, I remained a slave to that chemical process. My hair let me know when it was time to reup with Ms. Mitchel. She saw me faithfully every 6-8 weeks. On the precipice of entering high school, I found a new, hip hair salon on my father’s postal route 2 blocks from our house that introduced me to the perm.

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I jumped right from the curl process to the straightening process of the perm. More chemicals. And those were not harmless chemicals. From my own experience of the burning scalp, I had an inkling it couldn’t be the healthiest thing going, but that didn’t stop me from getting a touch up every 4-6 weeks. Fast forward another 20 years and Chris Rock released his documentary Good Hair, a movie about the $9 billion-dollar hair industry. Perm relaxers are also known as “creamy crack” because once you start that process, it seems nearly impossible to stop. I felt polished, clean, pretty as long as my hair was done. It was easier to blend in with straight hair, to not be seen as different. Women who didn’t subscribe to the creamy crack were viewed as “others”, rebelling against the system that said they needed to assimilate to be accepted. As I watched that movie, I thought about my own infant daughter. I wondered what kind of example I’d be setting for her, if I needed to have my hair straightened to feel beautiful, acceptable, while she rocked gorgeous natural curls. Would she think something was wrong with her? At the same time, I had just begun taking medicine to control my high blood pressure and I started to notice excessive shedding of my hair. I talked to my stylist about it and he recommended that I stop getting relaxers. The combination of the medicine and the chemicals were taking a toll on my crown. It took another few years for me to wrap my brain around a natural hair lifestyle. I did research, viewing various YouTubers and reading hair blogs to figure out what I was getting myself into. If ever there was a time to go natural, this was it, as the natural hair movement was poppin’! When I finally took the plunge, I made an appointment at a natural hair salon. The stylist asked me bluntly, “are you ready to accept your nappy hair?” I knew what she meant. It would be a commitment. It would be a huge adjustment. It would be life-changing. Was I ready for that?

I had read that Coco Chanel quote shortly before. If I wasn’t ready to embrace my naps, then I would have to embrace being bald because my hair was falling out. So, I had no choice. I was approaching 40. Ironically, I had always said when I turned 40 I would cut all of my hair off, thinking that 40 symbolized a point in my life when I wouldn’t care about other people’s opinions. Here it was. The time was now. Was I ready? Yes!wp-1477806846075.jpg

I left the salon that day with my hair about 2 ½ inches shorter and a nice wavy hair style. And over the next 3 years, it was an adjustment. I struggled with my identity, my self-esteem, my confidence. Friends and family subtly let me know they weren’t feeling my new look. They had only known the chemical me. The new natural me found a community of “naturalistas” offering a multitude of help by way of product recommendations, best practices and meet ups. I found myself looking deeper into who I was, beyond  my hair. I reevaluated my beliefs, my passions, my purpose. I began living more authentically. I decided I was done pretending to be anything other than a strong, black woman, wife, mother, writer. People began saying my curls fit me, and they couldn’t imagine me with straight hair again. I’m still in the process of change. But I am embracing my naps, and what they represent: my blackness. In a way, the naps represent the struggle. Trying to be straight in a curl world. Or trying to be flat in a round world. Trying to blend in and not be noticed as “different” or “other” which equals scary instead of being unique. The one thing naturalistas will tell you is that hair textures are like snowflakes, no two are alike. So to embrace your natural hair for women of color is to accept your otherness. And with that acknowledgement is the obligation to offer your uniqueness to the world. More importantly, I embrace myself and my daughter loves my hair.wp-1477806918811.jpg